Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, of Hailey, a “dirty, rotten traitor” in a video clip from his town hall meeting Wednesday in New Hampshire posted by the Wall Street Journal.
Deployed in Afghanistan, Bergdahl walked away from his base on June 30, 2009, and was captured by the Taliban. He was held for five years until May 2014, when the U.S. swapped five Taliban prisoners for his return.
The swap proved controversial, with members of Congress quickly questioning President Obama’s decision and national criticism prompting the city of Hailey to cancel a celebration planned in Bergdahl’s honor.
Trump is just one of the many 2016 presidential candidates who have commented over time on the deal. He’s criticized Obama’s decision to media outlets and in public speeches since at least May, according to a quick scan of media coverage online.
Fact-checking website Politifact questioned some of his claims in a post in July — in particular, whether the five Taliban prisoners are “back on the battlefield” and again actively fighting the U.S.
“The Taliban Five are known to be in Qatar, where they have been since their release over a year ago,” wrote Politifact’s Lauren Carroll. “Qatar is considered neutral ground — not a battlefield — and they are not allowed to leave the country. At least one of the five has been in contact with suspected insurgents, but experts said there is not enough information available to know the extent of these communications. And even if they had communicated with insurgents from afar, that would be not the same as literally going back to the battlefield.”
Eugene Fidell, the lawyer representing Bergdahl, told The Associated Press that Trump’s callous statements are threatening the soldier’s right to a fair trial. He noted that Bergdahl is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, not treason. And he added that Army prosecutors have said they will not offer any evidence that anyone died looking for his client.
Trump’s accusations have also included a much-debated claim that six U.S. troops died while searching for Bergdahl.
Other presidential candidates’ statements on Bergdahl and the swap include:
• In March, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said on a radio show that the prisoner swap “is what happens when you put someone in office who’s never led before,” referring to Obama,according to Bloomberg.
• Also in March, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said his first thoughts were to any soldiers killed searching for Bergdahl and their families. “It’s hard to think about the blood and treasure of our country being lost in any circumstance but to try to bring back someone who turns out to be a deserter is just heartbreaking,” he saidaccording to The Hill.
• Sen. Rand Paul slammed the deal at a June 2014 Texas GOP convention. “Releasing five Taliban senior officials is not only against the law, it’s illegal and wrong and (Obama) should never have done it,” he saidas cited by Politico.
• Former Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the tradein a June 2014 interview with ABC.
“I think this was a very hard choice. There are competing interests and values. And one of our values is we bring everybody home off the battlefield the best we can. It doesn’t matter how they ended up in a prisoner of war situation.”
• Sen. Bernie Sanders talked briefly about Bergdahlon the June 1, 2014, edition of Face the Nation:
“I suspect that if you ask (Bergdahl’s) feelings about what happened, they will feel very, very good. I think we need to have more information about the long-term consequences, and do everything that we can to make sure that these terrorists do not get back onto the battlefield.”
Earlier this month, magazine The American Conservative published an examination of how Bergdahl’s pending military trial and the GOP primary have collided. You can read that article, including examples of statements from more of the candidates, here.